On the occasion of the presentation of the book “Francis: Pastor and Theologian,” on Wednesday night, September 22, Cardinal Juan Jose Omella. Archbishop of Barcelona, Spain, paused to answer questions of a small group of journalists. In one of his answers, he assured that “the Church’s boat will arrive at port.”
It started with a question on his meeting with Pope Francis in the morning, at the end of the General Audience. What did the Pope say to you? He answered, “He is so human that, when he saw me the first thing he said was ‘greet your mother,’ which is always something emotional. My mother is 96 and the Pope had the delicacy on the day of her birthday to surprise her, calling her in the morning to wish her a Happy Birthday. You can imagine how emotional she was! And then we gave him the book and nothing else because there were other Bishops and many people behind us. The only thing we said to one another is that we would see each other in a few days. I won’t say more, not because it’s a papal secret, but because we couldn’t say anything more.”
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Exaudi: The Holy Father has spoken again of the “diluted” presence of God in Europe, a subject he also touched upon during his recent trip to Slovakia. The Council of European Bishops’ Conferences is underway. How is this question addressed?
Cardinal Omella: The Pope stressed a lot the roots we have as a society from which the sap rises, which gives fruit to the tree. If a tree doesn’t have strong roots, it doesn’t produce any fruit. And the second thing I got from his message – which seemed very lovely to me, after the experience of Budapest and Slovakia -, was hope.
I think we live in a Europe that is, let’s say, somewhat tired. A very old society, where there is no youth, where there are no births, where there are almost no children, and which is losing hope somewhat. What will become of all of us? The pandemic, the lack of work, the problem of immigration: we ask ourselves a lot of questions and we have lost hope somewhat.
The Pope talked much of hope because the Lord walks with us. In these days, I often repeat that the Church — I take it from Benedict XVI when he resigned — is shaken, these are turbulent times, but this boat will arrive at port, He has promised us. And I add, somewhat jokingly, in Pope Francis’ style, that we will arrive with a bit of seasickness.
Exaudi: An agitated sea inside or outside the Church?
Cardinal Omella: Very much so because the joys and sufferings of the world are also ours, we are part of the world and of society. Everything hurts us: the death of coronavirus patients hurts us; people without work hurts us; the situation in La Palma (Spain) now hurts us, given the irruption of the volcano; the death of immigrants in the Mediterranean hurts us; political and Afghan refugees hurts us, and what is happening in the Church hurts us.
A simple person said to me: “Look, this seems to be the end of the world.” No, it’s not so; the world is beginning. God didn’t create the world for four days; He created it for a long time. But we must build a world of freedom, of fraternity, with that culture of encounter that the Pope talks so much about. We are facing a challenge and we must address it with hope, because the Lord walks with us. I shall be with you every day, in all the difficulties, until the end of the world. I believe this is hope, and the Pope has reminded us of it.
Exaudi: On the subject of suffering in the Church, what’s the situation of Bishop Novell?
Cardinal Omella: I have said and I repeat that we must learn to be respectful of people. We always like to put ourselves in the life of others in these circumstances. We let the people go their own way. When parents have a child with difficulties, for instance, without work, or with drug problems, another subject that causes so much suffering, the best thing is to listen, to accompany, to be silent, and to help. And, instead, we begin immediately to ask questions: What’s going to happen? What has someone done? And spin out novels . . .
I believe we must be able to wait, because the pain of a Church, of a family, of parents, of a person living a situation of search and relocation, calls for great respect and exacts from us, as Christians, to pray, to pray a lot — for this Church, for the Church in Spain, for this Bishop, for all Bishops, for all priests, and for all the people. I believe this is our role, so as not to go on with this morbid gossip that sometimes dominates us.
Exaudi: Will you talk to the Pope about this?
Cardinal Omella: I don’t know; it depends on what the Pope wants to talk about. I’ll talk as a brother with another brother, heart to heart.
Exaudi: And does the Bishop’s silence depend on the Vatican or not?
Cardinal Omella: I don’t know; I haven’t asked him. He said he wouldn’t talk; it’s a personal decision. Do you want to know it all to gossip? No, I really don’t know.
Exaudi: Will you talk with the Pope about the dialogue between the Catalan Aragonese President and the Sanchez Spanish government?
Cardinal Omella: I will tell him what I carry in my heart as a worry and what worries the Church in Spain, and what we live every day, which will come out into the light. Other things will also come out, such as the subject of poverty. I believe it will come out; it will depend much on the time the Pope has.
Exaudi: There is much talk of a possible trip of the Pope to Santiago.
Cardinal Omella: I will ask him, as I’ve already mentioned it to the Pope many times. He always smiles and answers: “You know that I love Spain, that I know it well, that I would like to go there.” Will he do so? I don’t know.
Exaudi: And Manresa?
Cardinal Omella: I say to you, if he goes to Santiago, how much I’d like him to go to Manresa, given that it’s the Ignatian Year. However, it also scares me a bit to insist so much on something that other places would like, such as Granada, Madrid, Avila . . . It’s the Pope’s decision, not mine. If it were mine, it would be very clear.